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I just can’t buy it

February 15, 2017

Let me begin with this: I have no interest in a flame war with James Wesley Rawles, his supporters/admirers or those who disagree with him. If you’re inclined toward such a war, feel free to stop reading, right now.  I have been to Rawles website,, and found some good information there. He sometimes expresses views I support. Sometimes, he expresses views I most certainly do not support. So what? I’ve not yet met the person in the preparedness community or any other community, with whom I agree on everything. Besides, it’s his blog. He has no obligation to write or accept articles with which I or anyone else approve. That’s the way it should be. I doubt he cares whether I agree with him or not. That, too, is the way it should be. After all, many of us in the prepping and homesteading communities primarily want one thing – to be left alone to live our own lives the way we see fit, including having our own philosophies and opinions. Moving on…

There are, among devotees of preparedness, a number of people who want to be prepared for, among other things, the “Golden Horde” that will engage in mass exodus from the cities in the event of a TEOTWAWKI event. From a historical perspective, the Golden Horde was a Mongol khanate established in the 13th century by Batu Khan, a grandson of Genghis Khan. It’s fascinating to read about. To get a good feel for it, I suggest you begin with a reading of Genghis Khan and follow the story from there rather than beginning with the life of Batu Khan. Concerns about a modern-day Golden Horde share nothing with the historical one other than the name. In this article, I’m only really concerned about this modern-day version.

The short version of the concerns about a Golden Horde is this: in the even of a true TEOTWAWKI event, many people, perhaps even millions of people, will stream from the cities into the countryside in a desperate search for food, water and other resources. Some people suggest it will happen, but the numbers will be lower though still enough to be a problem (“10% of 10% of a million people is still enough to ruin your day,” is fairly common reasoning). The idea is that so many people will flee the cities as to overrun those farms, small towns, homesteads and preppers who are not adequately prepared. I submit this belief suffers from a lack of thought and logic.

Let’s imagine a scenario in which we have a true SHTF situation, one in which life as we know it really does come to an end. True societal collapse has come, and it has come suddenly, catching virtually everyone (except, you know, some in the preparedness community) by surprise. This scenario has its own problems, as collapse is usually a process rather than an event, but we’ll go with this one. Our city for such fun will be Los Angeles, California.

Historically, when things have gone bad, people have tended to flock toward the cities rather than away from them. After all, that’s where the resources are and that’s where government typically focuses its relief efforts, at least at first. I see no reason to believe this would be different in the US, in the event of some society shattering event. So, at least initially, people would be more likely to stream into the cities, rather than out of them. But, let’s wait a bit…

Okay, we’ve waited long enough for a few things to happen. Store shelves are empty, not simply because of the failure of “just in time” replenishment, but also because government crisis management systems are overloaded. Infrastructure is failing rapidly. There is little or no electricity or natural gas. Gas stations are out of fuel. When people turn on the faucet or push the handle on the toilet, nothing happens. Now, we’re told, the Golden Horde will flee the cities by the millions, spreading out into the countryside, wreaking havoc and leaving devastation in its wake. Here’s why I disagree.

  • Disease will kill many. Most people do not know what to do with their own waste if the toilets stop working. This lack of knowledge sets people up for cholera and dysentery.
  • Crime is an issue. Gangs and other criminal organizations are unlikely to ignore so many people and the easy targets they will represent as they struggle to leave the city on foot (no gas, remember?). With the highways presumably clogged by cars that are now no more than immobile hunks of metal and plastic, foot travel is a necessity.
  • Our big cities and associated metro areas cover huge areas of real estate. Most people live in them, rather than on their edges. If you are in Los Angeles, it’s a long walk to an area with food and water.
    • Most Americans walk no more than 2.5-3.0 miles/day. While some have suggested the average adult can walk almost 100 miles in a 24 day, I disagree. When I was much younger, I participated in my first walk-a-thon and completed the 20 mile course. While I was very physically active, before I reached the 20 mile mark, I could tell I was well on my way to being done. My muscles were cramping, so my pace had slowed considerably. I had burned through my energy stores, so as the evening approached I became cold and began shivering, even though it wasn’t significantly cooler than it had been earlier in the day.
    • In 2013, the Advisory Board noted some details from a CDC report. These details are important to the concept of a Golden Horde.
      • 80% of U.S. adults do not meet federal recommendations for aerobic activity and muscle-strengthening exercise;
      • 60% drink alcohol, including an increased number who said they have consumed five or more drinks in one day over the previous year;
      • One-third are completely inactive during their leisure time; and
      • 20% smoke, with fewer than half attempting to quit within the past year.
      • Further, the CDC tells us
        • 37.9% of adults age 20 and over are obese and
        • 70.7% of adults age 20 and over are overweight, including obesity
    • The area outside Los Angeles that must be traveled, on foot, before one reaches an area likely to have food and water, is desert and mountains.Shall our Golden Horde cross the desert in the heat, or the mountains in the cold?
    • It seems unlikely the criminal element of our cities would choose to ignore those “easy pickings” that were wandering out of the city. Remember, most of the law-abiding people in our big cities have been effectively disarmed by their governments. The same is not true of the criminals who would prey on them.
    • What the proponents of the Golden Horde Hypothesis (if that term is not already claimed, I’m claiming it) would have us believe, then, is that, to a great extent, the countryside is going to be overrun by people who are actually unlikely to make it to the edge of the metropolitan areas in which they reside. Between criminal gangs, starvation, dehydration, hypo/hyper thermia, lack of physical endurance and the spread of disease, I simply do not see many of them making it, at least not in any significant numbers.

“But,” you say, “you chose Los Angeles. Not every city is like LA.” That’s correct. On the other hand every city does tend to spread out, leaving the people who actually live in the city further to go. Let’s take another example. Since I live in Texas, we’ll use the Dallas-Forth Worth Metroplex.

TEOTWAWKI has arrived. The situation is the same as in Los Angeles (empty shelves, etc.). You aren’t a homesteader or prepper. You’re just an average, likely to be overweight and out of shape urbanite. But you have heard there is abundant food and water, just there for the taking, in the vast tropical paradise known as West Texas. Accordingly, you set out for Abilene. Using the DFW airport as the average distance, you’ll need to walk about 175 miles. Good news. There’s more likely to be ground water around the Metroplex. You brought a kettle or pot for boiling it, yes? You know how to make a fire, don’t you? You didn’t abandon it because it’s too heavy, did you? Are you making sure you do “your business” away from the water you find to drink? Do you actually take the time to boil your water or is your dehydration related desperation so great you decide to just “take the chance?” Did you bring something in which to collect and carry water when you find it? Are you traveling alone or with others? Does your survival plan involve you making a real 20 miles every single day (if you’ve not done it, you should get out and walk 20 miles. No warm up, no preparation. Just get up one morning and walk 20 miles.  Do you have the very young or elderly with you? If you do, their food and water needs combined with a much slower speed will make your trip take considerably longer. What will you do when you begin the gradual 1200 foot climb from Dallas to Abilene? Where do you intend to find water once you’re out of the DFW area? What about food, regardless of where you are? You’re armed, trained and prepared for the criminal gangs who will want whatever food, water and other resources you have, aren’t you, like the average urbanite?

The point is, I could ask similar questions about every major city in the US. Would some people make it out? Of course. I just don’t buy the Golden Horde Hypothesis. Certainly, as a person’s distance from a metropolitan area increases, his/her chance of meeting a “Horder” would seem to decrease (a variation of the inverse square law, perhaps?), simply as a matter of geography. Once we factor in time, distance to be traveled, physical deconditioning, lack of basic knowledge and skills, disease, crime, dehydration, starvation, etc, the likelihood seems vanishingly small.

What do you think?


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  1. Two things, one- Loss of medications will take out a goodly number. Two- Living outside a major Metro area is all good… Looking at that and routing for ‘escape’ routes from major towns in Texas pushed me to where I’m currently living 🙂

    • We, too, are looking at the possibility of moving in the not-too-distant future.. We have a few areas in mind for consideration. We like where we are, and should things go south, there are far worse places to be. Still, we could be in a better location.

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